Electric/Shared Mobility: Can they coexist with pedestrians and vehicles?

Electric kick scooters (e-scooters) and electric bikes (e-bikes) are showing up in cities as another trend in the world of on-demand mobility. Companies like Lime, JUMP Bikes, Spin, and Bird allow users to rent an e-scooter or e-bike to travel around a city using a mobile application. In comparison to traditional bikeshare systems where users rent and return bikes at docking stations, these companies, along with several others, have developed dockless systems and provide e-bike and e-scooter access throughout a city.

Current Status

In the United States, shared e-bikes and e-scooters providers have expanded rapidly since the first launch of e-bike service in 2017 and e-scooter service in 2018. E-scooters and e-bikes are powered by an electric motor to propel riders along streets and up hills. E-bikes can travel up to 20 mph and e-scooters have a top speed of 15 mph. Compared to traditional bikeshare, dockless e-bikes and e-scooters have experienced two to four times greater daily use per unit. The evolution of lithium-ion battery technology and cellphone-based GPS technology combined with an infusion of venture capital has helped make shared e-bikes and e-scooters affordable to the public.

Some early dockless e-bike and e-scooter providers launched their services without consulting local governments. At the time when these services were first launched, most cities did not have an official permit process established and there were no specific local guidelines. Several city agencies, such as San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency and Seattle’s Department of Transportation have implemented short-term permits and pilot programs in response to these new mobility services.

Possible Benefits

Extended bicycle trip lengths beyond what is considered the current optimal bicycle distance of 1 to 3 miles

Enhanced active transportation options that improve comfort levels of travelers by overcoming significant challenges such as high speed differentials between cyclists and drivers or changes in elevation that can be a disincentive for non-powered bicycling

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions as some short distance auto trips may be replaced with e-bikes and e-scooters

Reduced roadway congestion due to less vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) and transportation network companies (TNCs)

Improved first/last-mile travel as users can conveniently park close to their destination or have more flexibility in parking location, therefore shortening the overall travel time

Increased number of people bicycling in areas that have seen very few bike trips, which means local governments will need to be smarter about designing all streets for bike safety

Possible Limitations

Impacted public areas from scooters and bikes parked on sidewalks or other public spaces

Concerns of equity since these services typically require smart phones and bank accounts to operate and are often deployed in higher-income urban neighborhoods

Concerns over safety due to sidewalk riding, insufficient bicycle facilities, and inexperienced riders

Concerns over data management as not all companies have been transparent with user travel data

Concerns over ADA accessibility as sidewalk riding or parking may impact visually impaired or wheelchair users

Concerns over regulations by local governments as they are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of the public and have the authority to permit or restrict use of e-bikes and e-scooters within the public right-of-way

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Fehr & Peers is committed to devoting some of our R&D resources to evaluating emerging technologies such as Electric/Shared Mobility so we can keep our clients informed and help them navigate this rapidly-changing landscape.